How the battle to succeed Abacha took place in Aso Rock – Ex-Army Chief Bamaiyi

FILE PHOTO: Former Army chief General Ishaya Bamaiyi (C) is led out of the courtroom after regaining his freedom of attempted murder charge at the Ikeja High Court in Lagos on April 3, 2008. A Lagos high court has discharged and acquitted General Bamaiyi, former Army Chief during the dictatorial regime of General Sani Abacha, who has been standing trial on four counts of attempted murder since 1999. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE
PHOTO: Former Army chief General Ishaya Bamaiyi (C) is led out of the
courtroom after regaining his freedom of attempted murder charge at the
Ikeja High Court in Lagos on April 3, 2008. A Lagos high court has
discharged and acquitted General Bamaiyi, former Army Chief during the
dictatorial regime of General Sani Abacha, who has been standing trial
on four counts of attempted murder since 1999.

A
former Chief of Army Staff, Ishaya Bamaiyi, has given a vivid account
of how the then senior officers engaged in the battle to succeed former
military head of state, Sani Abacha, who died in the early hours of June
8, 1998.
Mr. Bamaiyi, a retired
lieutenant general, gave the account in his book, “Vindication of a
General” which was launched last Thursday in Abuja.
According
to him, after Mr. Abacha’s burial in Kano on that day, the most senior
military officers returned to the Council Chambers of the Presidential
Villa, where they met to decide who would head the government.
He
said though he was not interested in the position, the choice of
successor to Mr. Abacha was narrowed to the then Chief of Defence Staff,
Abdulsalami Abubakar; the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory,
Jeremiah Useni; and himself.
“We
returned from Kano and went into the Chambers to decide who would become
the Commander in Chief. While in Kano, some senior officers had decided
that the COAS (Bamaiyi) would take over the government,” Mr. Bamaiyi
said in the 252-page book.
“I had never
been interested in any political office, had avoided them so far, and
had no intention of taking up the positon of Commander in Chief. I made
this clear to the senior officers who insisted I should take over,
including Generals SVL Malu, Magashi, and Aziza.
“I
was aware that some junior officers who were against my taking over as
Commander in Chief because they knew I would not tolerate them in
service.”
The former army chief said
despite his lack of interest, the problem he had with Mr. Abubakar (who
eventually emerged as head of state and commander in chief) was that of
convincing the senior officers to accept him (Abubakar) because he had
been convicted by a court martial sometime between 1970 and 1972 for
tampering with soldiers’ salaries.
He
said rather than serving two years imprisonment, being dismissed or
reduced in rank having been found guilty by the court martial presided
by the late Colonel Nenger, Mr. Abubakar’s former classmates at the
Provincial Secondary School, Bida, at the Army headquarters “worked it
out and reduced the sentence to a reprimand.”
Mr.
Bamaiyi said soon after the meeting commenced, Mr. Abubakar started
distributing papers as if the choice of the next head of state would be
by an election.
He said, “Officers were
not prepared to accept an officer with a record of conviction as a head
of State. The issue of succession now fell to me, and some of the
commanding officers and the staff told me I had to take charge to save
the situation. I told them I believed in Abubakar and we should support.
“While
this was going on, some junior officers were campaigning against Useni
and me. They believed that once I took over, they would be in trouble,
but I never had any intention of taking any political post. I had joined
the army not for politics.
“When I
told the senior officers I would (not) take over as Commander in Chief,
the officers close to me said I was going to regret my action. I did not
believe them because General Abubakar and I had been very close since
we had been Lieutenants and played hockey for 2 Mech. Div. with Generals
Shehu Yar’Adua, and Useni.
“As soon as
we got into the chambers, Abubakar started distributing papers as if
there were going to be an election. Meanwhile, people were there with
Bibles and Qurans because they did not know who the Commander in Chief
was going to be.
“It took a lot of
persuasion to get the officers to accept Gen. Abubakar. This was why
during the swearing in of the Commander in Chief, the Quran and the
Bible were brought into the chambers unknown to many officers and the
PRC members.”
The former Army chief
explained that after the discussion, no decision was reached because
papers were passed around for officers to nominate a Commander in Chief.
He
said, “When it was my turn, I got up and announced we had all agreed
that Gen. Abubakar was to be the Commander in Chief and had been
promoted to a four-star general. Abubakar was sitting next me. That was
how we succeeded in making Gen. Abubakar the Commander in Chief in spite
of his record of conviction.”
He said
he was glad that the minutes of the meeting taken by one T. Fagbemi
clearly stated that he (Bamaiyi) nominated Mr. Abubakar and also
suggested that the new head of state be promoted to the rank of a
four-star general.
Mr. Bamaiyi, however, said he regretted that after Mr. Abubakar became the head of state, he (Abubakar) changed.
He
narrated that the new leader who ruled from June 8, 1998 to May 29,
1999, did not only begin to doubt his loyalty but also felt threatened.
According
to him, one of the reasons was that he (Bamaiyi) was opposed to the
decision of some retired military leaders, including a former president,
Ibrahim Babangida, to return former head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo,
to power.  
He said, “He (Abubakar)
started holding meetings with Generals Babangida and Aliyu Gusau. I was
receiving reports of their getting together. I did not bother myself
about such meetings because I knew we were not staying long in
government.
“Unknown to me, Gen.
Abubakar had already committed himself to Generals Babangida, TY
Danjuma, and Aliyu Gusau on General Obasanjo’s coming in to take over
from him – a proposal I totally objected to, which I told Generals
Abubakar, TY Danjuma, and Aliyu Gusau in very clear terms.
“My
stand did not go down well with the generals, and Gen. Abubakar started
feeling unsafe. He started using some officers, especially from
Intelligence, to write all sorts of reports against me saying I was too
ambitious and wanted to be the Commander in Chief since no one would
have stopped me from taking over after General Abacha’s death.”
Mr. Obasanjo later won the 1999 elections and governed Nigeria from 1999 to 2007.
Mr.
Bamaiyi was charged in 1999 with the attempted murder of the publisher
of the Guardian newspaper, Alex Ibru, who was killed during the Abacha
dictatorship.
The former army chief was discharged and acquitted on April 2, 2008 after nine years in detention.

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